San Diego Padres, (71-91)
Additions: Colten Brewer, Allen Craig, A.J. Ellis, Freddy Galvis, Chase Headley, Eric Hosmer, Raffy Lopez, Kazuhisa Makita, Bryan Mitchell, Shane Peterson, Tyson Ross, Rowan Wick, Tom Wilhelmsen, Chris Young
Subtractions: Erick Aybar, Jabari Blash, Jhoulys Chacin, Jarred Cosart, Rocky Gale, Cory Mazzoni, Tim Melville, Jose Ruiz, Hector Sanchez, Ryan Schimpf, Yangervis Solarte, Travis Wood
The most riveting storyline of the Padres’ offseason can be wrapped up rather simply: national reporters started suggesting that San Diego might be a darkhorse candidate to sign Eric Hosmer — viewed by many as the top free agent on the market — as the Winter Meetings got underway, and as the Red Sox re-signed Mitch Moreland in mid-December, Hosmer suddenly only had two obvious suitors, the Royals and Padres. Rumors were circulated ad nauseum about the Padres courting Hosmer, though nothing came from them, and as the calendar flipped to February, it looked like he might be close to heading back to Kansas City. That’s when San Diego swooped in and gave Hosmer an eight-year, $144 million contract, finally reeling in the player they’d been pursuing all offseason and finding a new face of the franchise for a young group that they hope can rise to the top of the NL West in the not-too-distant future.
The Hosmer signing is by no means a one-step solution to the Padres’ problems. In fact, one could argue that it sets back their development a bit. Hunter Renfroe was considered by many to be the face of the Padres’ rebuild a year ago and hit one more homer than Hosmer in 2017 despite spending a few late-summer weeks in Triple-A, but the 26-year-old was demoted to the fourth outfielder role as Wil Myers shifted to right field upon Hosmer’s arrival. If Renfroe forces his way to the lineup, it may be at the expense of late bloomer Jose Pirela, who posted a team-best 122 OPS+ a year ago. Either way, it’s easy to assert that the addition of Hosmer will weaken the team’s defense, as they’ll move from one of the majors’ rangiest first basemen in Myers to Hosmer, who has historically struggled with lateral movement. Myers, meanwhile, goes back to the outfield, where he struggled immensely earlier in his career. All in all, Hosmer’s addition provides San Diego with a talented, experienced leader who can help make young players better, but it obviously doesn’t put them over the top. If the Padres become an imposing force in the near future, it will be because position players like Manuel Margot, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Luis Urias and pitchers such as Mackenzie Gore and Cal Quantrill have developed into stars, not because Hosmer has continued to be the player he’s been for his entire career.
Beyond signing Hosmer, though, the Padres did the little things to lay the groundwork for a competitive future. Their offseason wasn’t devoid of backward moves — they traded talented and versatile infielder Yangervis Solarte to the Blue Jays, and they allowed their most successful starter in 2017, Jhoulys Chacin, to walk in free agency — but they did plenty to improve as well. They managed to acquire shortstop Freddy Galvis, who has consistently ranked as one of the rangiest shorstops in the majors, from the Phillies. They took advantage of the Yankees’ obsession with staying well under the competitive balance tax threshold by agreeing to take on the salary of old friend Chase Headley (who’s still a fine player) while receiving 26-year-old starter Bryan Mitchell as a reward for doing so. And they really invested in their bullpen, signing closer Brad Hand to a three-year extension with a club option for 2021, re-signing veteran righty Craig Stammen after his bounce-back 2017 campaign, and signing Japanese sidearmer Kazhisa Makita to a two-year deal. If San Diego can get another strong season from late bloomer Kirby Yates and a bounce-back campaign from former Marlins closer Carter Capps, its bullpen could be a real strength in 2018.
The Padres’ rotation is still a major weakness. Though they have several major-league-ready starters with significant upside (Dinelson Lamet, Luis Perdomo, Matt Strahm) and they have five starting pitching prospects that rank among MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects, they should probably still try to add a talented veteran starter (Alex Cobb quickly comes to mind) on a multi-year deal if they even hope to compete in 2019, especially since four of those five prospects spent the entirety of 2017 in the lower minors. Even Trevor Cahill, who remains on the free-agent market, could be an interesting fit if they want to make a more inexpensive move. The 30-year-old posted a 3.69 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over 11 starts in San Diego before being traded to the Royals last July.
If San Diego simply opts to stick with their current group of starters, it should be interesting to see if they can get any value out of the dumpster-dive free agents they added over the winter. Tyson Ross, a 30-year-old former Padre who posted a 7.71 ERA and 1.84 WHIP for the Rangers in his first season back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery last year, was signed to a minor-league deal and is pushing for a job this spring. He’s looked solid in Cactus League action and seems to have a decent shot at winning a rotation spot. Chris Young, a 38-year-old who also pitched for the Padres earlier in his career, is taking one last shot at sticking in the big leagues after sitting out the second half of last season following his release from the Royals organization. He’s struggled significantly since the start of 2016, allowing a MLB-worst 2.65 home runs per nine innings while posting a 6.52 ERA. The lanky right-hander has been up and down this spring — most notably down when he allowed eight earned runs and three homers on Friday — but if he can again rediscover his form like he has several other times over the course of his 13-year career, he could be a real weapon.
Ultimately, San Diego still appears to be a ways away from achieving dominance in the NL West. To do so, they’ll certainly need their prospects to develop as expected, and some combination of events such as Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen falling off, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado leaving their current teams, and the Giants continuing to age into oblivion will have to occur. The Padres are closer to being good than they were a year ago, though, and fans should take solace in that.